1. Introduction

Migration is a complex and multi-directional process: it can be short-term, permanent, circular, and in some cases, eventually end in return. Return can be the natural result of a migration project coming to an end – often, however, returns occur involuntarily through removal, or against the background of a lack of opportunities and difficult experiences in the destination country, sometimes combined with the threat of removal. Whether those who are not granted residence permits or who do not fall under international protection actually leave the country has implications for the integrity of regular migration pathways – the asylum system in particular.

Considering the difficult circumstances under which many migrants return and the difficult labour market conditions, stigma, and often fragile conditions awaiting them in their origin countries, actors in the return process are increasingly seeking to support return migrants beyond their re-entry in the origin country. The first consideration is to enhance returns and to reduce the chance that returnees remigrate irregularly. In parallel, countries seeking to return migrants want to set incentives and signals to discourage irregular entry of other migrants. A further consideration is to try to minimise cost – striking a balance between the cost of reintegration and the financial benefits associated with substituting removals. For migrants who hold legal residence in the host country, supporting return and reintegration can be a means of contributing to the development of the origin country and ensuring that the migration project of the individual is successfully realised. At the same time, reintegration assistance seeks to prevent returns, regardless of scale, from overwhelming local infrastructure and undermining social cohesion in the origin country. Increasing attention to returnees’ reintegration needs partly stems from the realisation that the feasibility and legitimacy of return policies and practices depend on the sustainable reintegration of individual returnees into their origin communities. Complementing return assistance with reintegration support programmes is meant to improve returnees’ inclusion – or re-inclusion – in origin country societies and allow them to contribute to their home communities. Inclusion, development and a reduction in migration out of desperation is an objective on which different partners can agree: destination countries, origin countries and returning migrants themselves.

The findings contained in this report, summarised in the following section, are drawn from a multi-partner peer review study involving eight OECD countries and site visits in 11 different locations (Box 1.1).

Over the past five years, large-scale displacements of people fleeing war-torn zones, natural disasters or economically deprived areas have put increasing pressure on receiving countries and regions. While most of the flows have been towards non-OECD countries, inflows of asylum seekers to OECD countries spiked in 2015, marking a record, before declining. While a large share of asylum seekers received some form of international protection, a significant number of requests did not lead to a positive response. As a result, a number of OECD countries have seen the population of migrants without a lawful residence permit and required to return increase, especially when irregular migration inflows outside the asylum system are also considered. In most countries concerned, particularly in Europe, returns have not kept pace with this increase. As a result, policy attention has given more attention to approaches and measures to support returns. Alongside enforcement and compliance measures, assisted return initiatives have evolved.

Assisted return has long been available for some categories of migrants, such as asylum seekers who withdraw or are refused their asylum request and refugees for whom the situation in the origin country allows return. While return assistance used to be limited to travel support and limited spending money, recent years have seen the development of reintegration assistance, which provides cash and in-kind support following return to the origin country. These programmes, largely but not exclusively run by Ministries of the Interior through co-ordinating bodies, share common features in terms of design. In numerical terms, they remain niche initiatives (a relatively small number of all return migrants participate), but have taken on importance as a solution for certain target groups, and in light of possible increases in the number of returns.

Not all OECD countries have chosen to offer return and reintegration support. The United States does not offer return or reintegration assistance, for example, relying on other policy mechanisms to promote returns. Canada had a pilot in the early 2010s, but has not offered support since then. Australia and Israel offer programmes to specific target groups. In contrast, European countries offer programmes, through national and EU programmes, and reintegration assistance is a key part of policy at both national and EU level in Europe.

As return migration to many origin countries increases, development cooperation has reflected this growing importance. For many donor countries, facilitating returns has long included policy goals such as greater co-operation on returns, through readmission agreements and protocols; it now sees priority also given to support the capacity of origin countries to reintegrate returning migrants. The development cooperation reintegration programmes in origin countries are distinct from those offering individual return and reintegration support. Such programmes tend to be community-based, with broader eligibility open to migrants who returned outside of any programme, including migrants who returned from third countries, forced returns and spontaneous returns. Germany’s programmes also serve the local population – regardless of any migration experience. Individual support packages can be difficult to align with a general development perspective, but in-kind support may build capacity of public and non-governmental origin country institutions charged with achieving general development objectives. Further, individual reintegration assistance can buy into development programmes and provide additional resources to which mainstream services can orient beneficiaries. This requires each programme to be aware of the services provided by the other, and an effective referral and collaboration mechanism. In the projects reviewed, in spite of substantial progress, bridging between these services was often incomplete. National liaisons and EU representation are key in ensuring links.

Assisted return and reintegration programmes largely aim to increase and facilitate the return and re-establishment in the origin country of persons who might otherwise be subject to removal or who do not yet have a right to remain. In countries which offer programmes, assisted return and reintegration of this group is seen as preferable to forced return, for economic, political and humanitarian considerations. The economic consideration is often the first reason for providing incentives to accept voluntary return, since it obviates the need for detention, escort and other costly measures associated with removal. What is more, even when public opinion supports a strict removal policy, individual removals may elicit a negative public reaction. Assisted return addresses this concern and also provides a safer and more dignified alternative to forced return. In this sense, it is often in line with both international commitments and national principles.

The introduction of assisted return combined with subsequent reintegration has been associated with more and easier return, although many other factors affect return decisions: the individual situation of the migrant, the economic, social and political circumstances in the origin country, the opportunities to remain in the destination country, etc. The many factors involved make changes in return numbers difficult to link directly to the availability of assistance, and thus hamper a proper evaluation of these programmes.

The multiple objectives of return and assisted reintegration programmes are reflected in a push in many European countries towards a whole-of-government approach in their organisation, especially coordination between Ministries of Interior and development cooperation agencies. This is reflected in policy documents but has met with some difficulty in translation to programme implementation. Individual reintegration assistance grants to voluntary returnees are generally part of policy for management of migration. Individual assistance contrasts with the development practice of supporting communities, infrastructure and broader capacity in the country of origin. At the individual level, reintegration assistance is not targeted to the most needy, or the most qualified, but to those who are eligible due to their status in the destination country. One response to attempt to reconcile these approaches has been to design reintegration assistance to work through, and reinforce, structures and services which are available to all returning migrants and the local population in general.

In origin countries, most returns – even voluntary returns – are not assisted and most migrants do not receive return assistance. In part this is because many returns are from countries which do not offer assistance; in Africa, for example, intra-regional migration exceeds returns from Europe. Some reintegration support may be offered for returns in this case – for example, through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative. Forced returns are significant – and outnumber assisted returns in most countries – but generally ineligible for reintegration assistance as part of the return process. Migrants who were removed may be eligible for some forms of reintegration assistance offered in the origin country after they have returned, but this eligibility appears usually only to be discovered after return.

At the same time, many of those eligible for assistance do not return, and most returnees who are eligible nonetheless return without the package. The fact that reintegration assistance is available is not enough to bring about a return decision, and many returnees note that the reintegration assistance was not the driving factor behind their return. Even with information provided during the asylum process and at points of contact with potential beneficiaries, many remain unaware of reintegration assistance. Others may know of reintegration assistance but prefer to return without taking the package, to remain invisible to origin country authorities, to facilitate future attempts at migration or because they see the reintegration assistance as too complex or ill-suited for their individual project. Further, return decisions often occur suddenly, leaving little time to organise reintegration assistance prior to return.

The number of returnees with reintegration packages adds up to a significant total: for example, more than 15 000 in Germany and 2 600 in France in 2018. Nonetheless, the low uptake relative to eligibility is surprising, as reintegration assistance enhances the available resources – both financial and non-financial – of the beneficiaries who are able to use it as part of a project of re-establishment in the origin country.

The cash amount or equivalent value of in-kind reintegration assistance offered to returning migrants varies. The presence of the assistance, and its amount, do not appear to be the main consideration in the return decision, as other factors are more important. However, it is a factor in the return decision, especially when counselling about return can refer to a package available to effectively support a return project.

The criteria used to set the amount vary among the countries examined, over time, and according to eligibility criteria. A concern is whether potential benefits may be a pull factor. As a consequence, migrants for whom barriers on entry are low (e.g. geographical proximity or visa-free admission) are usually not eligible for larger reintegration support. For other migrants, the costs of migration exceed any assistance they might receive; further, reintegration assistance offered through in-kind packages include a range of support, over time, making it hard for potential beneficiaries to calculate their cash equivalent, reducing the risk of them being a pull factor. International “package-shopping” for the most favourable assistance has not been detected, although there is no system for direct information exchange across countries to identify any migrants who might apply for assistance from different countries over time, including in origin countries. In contrast, some countries have systems in place to monitor use of return assistance programmes to reduce cash and travel benefits accordingly if pull factors are suspected.

Most potential returnees under reintegration assistance programmes do not initially consider return as an acceptable option, as they are focused on remaining and realising their migration project. While standardised information is provided at different points in the asylum process, a casework approach, addressing individual psychological states of mind at different points of the decision-making process, appears to be most effective. The timing and form of providing return information seems to be of particular importance. For asylum seekers, a crucial moment is when they receive the final decision. While some countries inform applicants by mail, in-person delivery of final decisions gives an opportunity to present return options with a better chance of being heard.

To shift the perception of return and frame it as an opportunity and not a failure, several techniques have been successful, including the “motivational interview technique”, which emphasises the chance to take control over one’s personal life. Return counselling involves painting a picture of possibilities after return; this can be based on individual counselling but can also be supported with testimony of successful return, through direct contact with previous returnees or material such as narrative films recounting their experience.

Counselling in the enforcement context – such as detention, reporting and even reception centres – by actors associated with enforcement is less successful in fostering interest in voluntary return and reintegration than information and counselling by trusted figures in neutral contexts. Separating return counselling – physically and procedurally – from enforcement and legal proceedings tends to be more effective. Involving stakeholders such as cultural and religious community figures, diaspora organisations and former returnees allows for a more convincing case. Involvement can take the form of formal recruitment, but also training and awareness raising. For unaccompanied minors, this may mean tutors or teachers; for victims of trafficking, it may mean their case workers. While partnering with civil society can help make the case for return more compelling, these actors cannot be expected to promote return in all cases, since they may not see it as the best option for some individuals. Contracting civil society organisations and other non-governmental actors thus requires accepting that some eligible beneficiaries will not be advised to return; public actors must continue to provide information and counselling based on the legal obligation to return.

The longer migrants have been abroad, the less they know about the situation and opportunities in their home country. To address this, most countries covered in this review have included links to experts on the home country, including videoconferences, mediators, informational visits, and other forms of direct contact in order to inform potential returnees of structures and offers available upon return and develop a concrete vision of post-return life. Not all counsellors have knowledge about origin countries, let alone an identified roster of contacts in the home country. One successful way to address this gap is to use intermediating bodies to make the connection between host country counsellors and contacts in the origin country who are familiar with the situation. This is one task of the Reintegration Scouts in Germany. In some cases, the counterpart is the implementing partner or contact who would eventually receive the case or collaborate in a reintegration plan prior to return. Fedasil organises annual meetings between operators in Belgium and origin countries to strengthen such contacts.

Campaigns to encourage uptake of voluntary return can be misperceived as targeting resident communities. As a baseline, most countries have dedicated voluntary return websites with information – sometimes targeted only at intermediaries rather than at migrants – and hotlines for information are widely used. These are essential infrastructure for promoting voluntary return by providing clear information and success stories. Targeted social media campaigns have been effective in reaching specific groups of beneficiaries. Actors such as social workers, legal aides, and appointed guardians are key contacts for many potential returnees, especially asylum seekers and unaccompanied children. Nonetheless, their role as support may mean they have seen return as a negative outcome. Even public sector actors may be inclined negatively against considering return, especially for asylum seekers whose case has not reached a final decision. It can be difficult to shift perceptions of potential returnees if they receive mixed messages.

Returnees who have started their reintegration project prior to return appear to fare better, even though most must adjust their projects and expectations to adapt to the post-return reality. One factor is training. Skills development prior to return is identified as helpful, although most programmes allow only a limited time for counselling, let alone training. Preparing for return tends to be particularly difficult for asylum seekers who are employed or involved in integration programmes while awaiting a decision. While asylum seekers likely to stay should prepare for integration, others unlikely to have a positive outcome may find it harder to consider return when such investment in remaining is underway. Basic and short modules are compatible with supporting early integration while still contributing to later promotion of return. Modules experimented in Switzerland and Germany, for example, have focused on general skills of broad application (digital skills, financial literacy, operation of equipment, hygiene principles, etc.) Such dual intent training can take place even when the participants have not yet considered or chosen to use return and reintegration assistance.

The kind of assistance offered (skills development, psychosocial support etc.) and the monetary value of reintegration packages varies among countries, according to beneficiaries and over time. Nonetheless, programmes require multiple actors in the destination and origin country.

Partners which tend to be important for reintegration assistance include:

  • Partners capable of providing skills assessment and labour market orientation, including assessment and (where relevant) certification of skills acquired abroad

  • Entrepreneurial support structures, including development of a business plan, access to credit, mentoring, business networks and market information

  • Social support services, including those working with populations with specific vulnerabilities, and those capable of supporting reinsertion of children in school or with health issues

In addition to partners essential for the implementation of programmes, other partners can contribute to reinforce the overall framework:

  • Private sector actors, especially those seeking specific skills and competences of returning migrants

  • Diaspora organisations can help identify reintegration opportunities, networks and investment and destigmatise return, although they may be reluctant to support initiatives associated with forced return. Diaspora associations can improve circulation of information on programmes in both the host and origin country – amplifying the impact of success but also of failed returns.

  • Associations of returnees in particular can assist in orienting returning migrants and making them feel part of a community.

  • Local actors (committees, cooperatives and councils, as well as regional offices of public services) can help provide support to returnees far from the capitals where donor-sponsored services are often centralised. Local councils can also help shift the narrative around return migration and create reintegration opportunities outside the capital region

Multiple partners, however, complicate oversight for the coordinator. The coordinator may be the sending country public body – in some cases, such as France’s OFII, represented in countries of origin – or through an implementing partner co-ordinating the intervention in the origin country. This can be NGOs active in the country – for example, Belgium’s Fedasil may work with Caritas, while Denmark may work with the Danish Refugee Council. This contact must however continually authorise projects, services, and changes in individual plans. While many countries take advantage of IOM’s global presence to coordinate reintegration assistance, there is no single model. The central coordinating mechanism or partnership, or state-led model depends on a range of factors, including the institutional capacity of the destination and origin country, the needs of the individual returnee and the experience and expertise of the partner.

As the number of partners increases, coordination becomes more challenging not only in terms of accountability, data management and reporting, tender management and financial control, but also regarding ensuring continuity and referral. For return migrants, multiple interlocutors can be confusing; without a strong referral mechanism, there is a risk of duplication and blurring of responsibility.

No single model for coordination has emerged, beyond the transfer to an origin-country case manager following return. In the best of cases, when the local institutions are strong enough, projects can transfer case management to state institutions relatively quickly, providing accompanying measures and support. In cases where local institutions are weaker, the implementing partner has to maintain its role or find alternative structures. Individual reintegration support packages end – the typical horizon of support is 12 months. This end of support means a sometimes difficult rupture with the beneficiary. It can also be difficult to separate for the partners working closely with them and with which they have formed a relationship.

Although favouring returns and sustainable reintegration is among the policy priorities for many European countries cooperating with origin countries, reintegration assistance sometimes occurs outside of development assistance frameworks and independent of other diplomatic initiatives. To address this, liaison officers within embassies, regular meetings and key contact points appear to have been effective, especially with respect to the identification of shared objectives and areas for collaboration.

As reintegration assistance in many cases grew out of return assistance, in which origin countries were often not involved, co-ordination with origin-country institutions has expanded along with the programmes themselves. Direct transfer of cases and resources for reintegration assistance to origin country institutions remains unusual, although a hybrid model is emerging of contributing resources for specific services, and co-ordinating case intervention, with the origin country. In addition to identifying and partnering with relevant public bodies, reintegration assistance also requires to work with local communities to which migrants return, including regional and local offices, local officials and organisations.

Multiple donors supporting different reintegration assistance programmes and packages with varying amounts and eligibility criteria may result in overlap. To address this, coordination among different development actors active in the origin country to identify initiatives, increase uptake, avoid duplication and mutualise efforts has been undertaken by donors, for example in Senegal. Coordination includes national and EU actors, as well as public, NGO and international organisations working as project implementers. Liaison officers from destination countries and from the EU have a potentially larger role to play.

A fee-for-services model, paid for by the host country, lies behind most individual reintegration assistance, even when it involves public services in the origin country. While individual support packages are time-limited and cover only a fraction of returning migrants, they are a resource input into an ecosystem of actors providing a range of services and affect the development of this ecosystem, giving actors more experience in working with return migrants. The number of beneficiaries receiving reintegration assistance is usually not large enough to drive an entire infrastructure. Using the packages to improve broader capacity of state, non-state, development co-operation actors and local institutions is essential for longer term sustainability of reintegration. Most reintegration programmes reviewed in this report, for example, contributed to fostering expertise in business development consultants, expanding contacts between private sector actors and civil society and strengthening the information exchange platform among participants. While not directly aiming at this result, they also contribute to cultivate a pool of local staff capable of conducting monitoring and evaluation to international standards, the longer-term development is necessary because partnerships for addressing short-term needs of returning migrants – reinsertion, business start-up, orientation – are not the same as those necessary to build medium and long term opportunities.

The limited formal employment sector in many origin countries means that most reintegration projects aim for self-employment, involving development of a business plan. Projects developed prior to return often need to be reformulated or replaced after return to adapt to the situation. This requires better communication regarding the origin country. Even when this is in place, returnees often discover that their project is not feasible as imagined. A traditional roster of return activities, sometimes gendered, facilitates project management but does not necessarily respond to the motivation of the returnee. The need for flexibility to adapt to circumstances sometimes clashes with reporting and accounting requirements as well as the usual 12-month horizon for support. Success of enterprises depends on many factors beyond the amount of reintegration assistance. Returning migrants have skills which are often neglected, unacknowledged or uncertified. Skills both technical and soft acquired during migration can be of use after return. Skills assessment and – where relevant – certification can help not only guide entrepreneurial projects but also to access formal employment. Chambers of Commerce uniting employers from the destination country are an effective partner; GIZ, for example, works with German Chambers of Commerce in the origin country.

Return migrants are often stigmatised in their communities of origin, with return perceived as a failure. This concern must be addressed among return migrants, assisting with reintegration for dependents (school enrolment, assistance in finding housing and accessing local health care) and preparing them for a return to their community. Addressing the families of returnees appears to be an important part of the social support offered for reintegration. More broadly, communication towards the community itself to shift the perception of returnees through support for associations of returnees and information campaigns on return migration can help ease the difficulty.

Recent years have seen the inclusion of return migrants and of reintegration assistance in policy documents in many origin countries, including Nigeria, Afghanistan, Tunisia and Senegal, for example. This reflects the priority it has assumed for destination countries, the technical support offered to origin countries in developing and drafting these policy documents, and the availability of earmarked resources from donors to address this population. It also reflects the awareness of the specific needs of return migrants. Public services in origin countries have not always been quick to adapt to serve return migrants, even in the presence of a formal commitment. This may be due to a negative perception of return migrants, an assumption that they have their own resources, a misunderstanding of their needs, or a lack of clarity over responsibilities for this group among national services and those serving diasporas and migrants abroad.

One means pursued to reinforce capacity while implementing return assistance is to favour and support the use of public services as part of the reintegration package where possible, through referrals or involving public authorities in case decisions. In addition, it may require raising awareness in public administration of reintegration issues and programmes (training of officials, meetings and workshops) and co-opting of key decision makers. Liaison officers from donor countries can also underline the need to mainstream support for returnees. A clear plan for the transfer of competencies, structures and/or services to the origin country and support the gradual transition of beneficiaries towards use of mainstream services is one means of reinforcing mainstreaming. Nonetheless, returnees are often sceptical of public services and prefer to rely as long as possible on donor-supported services, complicating efforts to mainstream. Managing their expectations remains a challenge, but can be addressed by clear deadlines for files to be transferred and services to be transitioned.

Return and reintegration assistance programmes in host countries attempt to ensure continuous case management, so that the returnee who asks for assistance in the host country has a smooth transition from pre-return preparation to arrival and post-return reintegration. While there is always some drop-out after return, and some returnees do not show up to start their reintegration, most make contact within a few months of return. Ensuring that returnees have a chance prior to return to meet – through video or telephone – their contacts in the home country helps ensure continuity, and most projects integrate this into their procedures.

Monitoring and evaluation are only as reliable as the information which underpin them. In the programmes reviewed, most of the information is provided by operators and implementers themselves, since they are in regular contact with the beneficiaries. Registering service provision, reporting on resource allocation and providing assessments on outcomes are part of the tasks of operators, although these are usually in addition to their main activities.

Data sharing is essential in this process, not only for case management, but also for monitoring and evaluation. This is often lacking, due to privacy concerns and the difficulty of sharing information across partners. Transnational case management is sometimes conducted by the same agency, but generally involves some transfer of responsibility for the case to an implementer and partners providing the assistance. In order to deal with this, platforms have been developed for sharing data. One system which allow multiple partners to access basic information according to needs, respects individual anonymity and can host different kinds of reintegration programmes is RIAT, developed by the Belgian Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (Fedasil) but scalable to other agencies and programmes.

One particularly difficult issue beyond programme data is sharing personal information between origin country and host country authorities. Prior to return, many origin countries have pressed for detailed information on returnees, which can assist in orienting them towards services. Destination countries have been reluctant to share personal information, for protection of the individual from potential negative consequences and to ensure that obstacles to return do not appear. On the other side, origin countries are reluctant to share information on their nationals with other countries after return, even when this is useful for programme monitoring and evaluation. This is a particular issue when public authorities are involved in providing services to returnees within programmes, or co-ordinating their cases, as they may see any obligation to report on their nationals to foreign authorities as a violation of sovereignty.

To date, no single understanding of “sustainable reintegration” has served as a benchmark for assisted return and reintegration programmes. Working definitions used by countries and actors vary, also according to origin-country circumstances, the migrant involved, and the means, scope and timeline under which many programmes operate.

An absolute reference of self-sufficient and well-being, such as the one developed and promoted by the IOM, is useful to guide intervention but can be difficult to use for programme evaluation. The latter requires taking into account individual characteristics and comparison with non-migrants and return migrants who did not receive support. A definition based exclusively on the baseline of the surrounding community neither takes into account conditions of the individual prior to migration nor the possibility that returning to the status quo is not perceived as a positive outcome.

Even in countries which do not have a formal definition of sustainability, a minimum expectation of reintegration is that it will reduce resort to remigration – specifically, irregular migration or migration out of a lack of acceptable alternatives.

A development perspective assesses sustainability by the extent to which reintegration support contributes to the development of the origin country. In addition to expecting the individual returnee to benefit, as above, it extends to consider overall impact – economically, politically and socially. Programmes are sustainable when there is a net economic benefit for the origin country; when the political leadership shares the goals of the programme and integrates them into legislation and administrative practice; when the programme contributes to societal acceptance of return migrants.

One of the risks identified in reintegration programmes is the creation of inequalities. Inequalities reflect differences in what is offered to migrants and what is offered to non-migrants, as well as the quality gap between state or public structures and those created or funded by donors. A further risk is to accentuate the inequalities already associated with migration, such as between regions which receive high levels of return migrant investment and those which do not.

Reintegration programmes which go beyond individual support address these risks primarily by ensuring that non-migrants have access to structures and services created; this is the approach taken by GIZ, for example, in its Advice Centres in countries of origin. Another means is to reinforce the capacity of the public sector to provide services to all residents, including returning migrants. By ensuring that support structures have an exit strategy to wind down their activities and transfer competences, the risk of in inequality of service is reduced.

The wide variety of origin-country contexts means that the capacity building process is at different points in each country and policy domain. In less developed countries, where social and employment support structures are weak, the inequality in service promises to persist for a long time, especially if the services offered through reintegration assistance are high level. In other countries of origin, working with local public institutions or strong civil society actors is more immediately feasible and allows to envisage an earlier transfer without sacrificing sustainability.

Support for reintegration from host countries responds to different kinds of expectations. First, that returns through the programme are less expensive than forced return. Removal is a more costly undertaking than voluntary departure. In addition to shifting from removal to voluntary return, cost savings also come when the programme leads to more or faster returns than would otherwise be the case, involving migrants who would not otherwise return. Another savings is to facilitate return of migrants whose stay is costly reducing the expenditures related to reception and support in the destination country. Costly stay can include for example persons with health needs which could nonetheless be satisfactorily met in the home country, or persons who represent social cases such as those living precariously or at risk for delinquency.

Second, that return is effective: at a minimum, recipients of reintegration assistance are not expected to return except through legal channels. The programme cannot be a pull factor for irregular migration or, within Europe, attract applicants from other European countries.

Sustainability also reflects policy goals beyond the individuals involved in reintegration assistance. It represents a necessary counteroffer to forced return in a political debate, supporting the legitimacy of an asylum system which contemplates dignified return and tempering potential controversy attracted by forced returns. For countries signatory to the Global Compact on Migration, it responds to Objective 21, which includes reference to reintegration.

A reintegration programme can also contribute to improved relations with origin countries, addressing concerns over the impact of returns by providing assistance. Several host countries explicitly refer to the possibility of additional support being related to cooperation in the sphere of migration management, including readmission cooperation.

In light of the multitude of objectives and the different expectations in terms of sustainability, the current evaluation framework appears in most case inadequate to fully measure the sustainability of reintegration assistance programmes. In the absence of a normative or common definition of sustainability, all programmes consider the number of participants and evaluate their outcomes in terms of remigration, outcome of the reintegration plan (such as income generating activity) and often self-reported well-being. The number of returning migrants and how they fare after return are indeed important indicators but are not sufficient for evaluation of programmes, since such programmes respond to many more objectives.

From a development perspective, evaluation of sustainability must take into account the impact on return migrants (as above), but also the impact on the community as a whole. Some indicators are already sketched out in existing evaluation objectives, such as the impact on non-migrants, local and family level perception of return migrants, or political support for mainstreaming reintegration assistance and the incorporation of reference to return migrants in policy frameworks and strategies and inclusion in administrative guidelines. While the latter are easy to measure, indicators requiring surveys are more costly and rarely undertaken. Longitudinal surveys, involving a local comparison group, are, a prerequisite for establishing a baseline for comparing returnees with non-migrants and assessing the long-term impact of programmes on individuals while accounting for their characteristics. The IOM framework is a basic for collecting multiple data points and can contribute to the comparative assessment.

A further complication in evaluating individual outcomes is the cost and complexity of follow-up, especially beyond the horizon of assistance. The non-response rate – the disappearance of beneficiaries – is frequently an issue even within the short timeframe of assistance. Tracking down returnees, and administering a longitudinal survey, is costly and difficult. Data on remigration is extremely rare.

Finally, it is difficult to disentangle the impact of programmes on return numbers and individual outcomes from other factors. Return decisions are largely motivated by considerations outside the programme – including the political and economic context in the origin country, the difficulty of remaining in the host country, the risk of forced removal, and individual characteristics.

Reintegration assistance aims to support a positive outcome, although the definition varies among donors and categories of beneficiaries. Receiving assistance improves the situation of returnees relative to those returnees who do not receive assistance, but this in itself is not enough to justify the expense. The success of reintegration – as positive as it may be for the individual returnee – should be considered in other terms: its contribution to bolster the ability of host countries to offer alternatives to forced return to other potential beneficiaries (programme credibility); the destigmatisation of return in local communities (improved environment for all returning migrants); and the capacity of origin country institutions to include returnees in mainstream services.

While one argument for promoting assisted return and reintegration is that it is less expensive than alternatives, each return is an individual case and represents its own savings. Little attention is given in most programmes to the cost of non-return or the cost of removal relative to individual cases of return assistance. While it is difficult to capture the role that assistance played in the return decision, it is often possible, based on nationality and other characteristics, to assess how difficult and costly it would have been to remove the same returnee. Some programmes take this into account in discretionary allocation of additional assistance. Few programme evaluations, however, take into account the costs savings of returns based on individual characteristics. Notably, persons from countries to which removal is not possible due to difficulties in obtaining travel documents, or those who are likely to spend long periods in detention, represent larger cost savings than persons for whom removal is straightforward and rapid. Social service cases and health cases both represent a larger burden for taxpayers; their return is a larger savings. Fedasil in Belgium for example considers the cost of six months treatment as a benchmark for resources it can invest in organising an assisted return of health cases. The ability to estimate and report on cost savings represented by returns can be a powerful tool to better target programmes and justify higher expenditures for complex cases.

A related question is the difference between cash and in-kind assistance. The shift to the latter has not been accompanied by an evaluation of outcomes. Indeed, if programmes are exclusively designed to provide an incentive to accept return, cash appears to be a simpler and more effective incentive, and certainly preferred by migrants considering return. In contrast, in-kind assistance brings additional benefits and responds to other objectives of programmes. However, a rigorous comparison on outcomes has not yet been conducted.

Evaluation in the future also needs to refer to alternative solutions, to account for whether objectives assigned to programmes can be met more effectively through other policy measures. Increasing the number of returns, for example, might be better addressed through enforcement and compliance efforts outside the scope of reintegration assistance. Voluntary return is effective in accelerating issuance of travel documents and facilitating return, but cooperation of origin countries may also be obtained through diplomatic measures and liaison activities. Increasing the capacity of origin countries to support the reintegration of return migrants may also be achieved through development cooperation, including support to actors serving the population in the origin country. Reintegration assistance does not occur in isolation.

National approaches remain very distinct, reflecting differences in institutional arrangements and the composition of the target groups. Many good practices seem nevertheless transferable. More importantly, there are a number of practices which are already mutualised and which can be further expanded. In particular, fee-for-service reintegration assistance programmes can share implementers and apply common standards, and use the same data sharing platforms and monitoring and evaluation surveys. Community-based evaluation of reintegration can benefit from mutualisation, as it allows for cost savings but more importantly the opportunity to conduct external evaluations rather than rely on internal project monitoring, and to reach beyond the horizon of individual support measures. More coordination with origin countries on policy change and information provision would lead to greater coherence and effectiveness. Cross-referral of beneficiaries can allow for greater coverage of support and information programmes aimed at the resident population and targeting return migrants, particularly those who did not make contact with programme providers prior to return.

In the medium term, however, the multitude of objectives, the differences in resources available and the varying expectations in terms of monitoring suggest that mutualised programmes will coexist alongside national and even regional or grassroots led channels of support for returnees. Likewise, individual reintegration assistance packages designed to provide an incentive for individuals to accept assisted return will continue to exist alongside community-based interventions in the origin country addressing the context for reintegration. Improved co-ordination among these interventions is possible – at the level of national representation in the origin country. Liaison officers at diplomatic missions can strengthen the ties among different programmes. A stronger role should also be taken at the EU level to ensure that different programmes work more closely together.

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